Your Values – Are They Your North Star?

Post by Claire Childress, Senior Assistant Director at Virginia Tech

2012 University Commencement at Lane Stadium.
2012 University Commencement at Lane Stadium.

One series of events that we can count on to occur every May and June are college and high school graduations. Most graduation ceremonies include a speech made by a celebrity or school connection like the one Eric Schmidt, Google Executive, gave at the Virginia Tech May 2015 graduation. He tied words from Metallica into his speech…appropriate wisdom for Hokies who hear Enter Sandman to get us pumped up at athletic events, especially when our football team runs on the field.

Recently, I saw an article sharing favorite parts from several 2015 graduation speeches, including one given by Tim Cook, Apple CEO, at George Washington University.

“Graduates, your values matter. They are your North Star. Work takes on new meaning when you feel you’re pointed in the right direction. Otherwise, it’s just a job. And life is too short for that. We need the best and brightest of your generation to lead. There’s opportunity to do work that’s infused with moral purpose. You don’t have to choose between doing good and doing well.”

Tim Cook’s quote stuck with me. Values do matter so much. They are a critical reference point as students start on the next phase of their career journeys. Values are one of the key areas we point a student to explore if figuring out majors or career directions. I really like the metaphor of the North Star. How long has that constellation been a guide for explorers? For runaway slaves in the US who used the North Star as a guide to “follow the drinking gourd?” And, for lost outdoor enthusiasts when without some other directional device like a compass or a GPS? Values can be a student’s North Star as s/he determines a career or major.


As students choose a career, why are values important? Many of us spend most of the hours we are awake at work. If our work doesn’t fit our values, we probably won’t be happy. How do I know this? My own experience. As I began the journey to my career, I worked in various roles in banks. Although I never took an assessment at my college career center, I knew my top value was a passion for helping others. I tried to convince myself as I made loans or helped a customer figure out the mess that was their overdrawn checking account, that my key value was being met. But it wasn’t…it was happening in a way that was not impactful enough to suit me.

So, I went back to school, got my MBA, and then directed marketing and PR for a hospital for almost four years. Again, I tried to convince myself that I was helping people through events or promotion that I created and implemented for the hospital, but that still wasn’t enough. Finally, I found my place in higher education where I directly help students through teaching and advising. My career journey took several twists and turns, but I eventually found the right fit for my key value.

How about you or your students or employees? Unsure of what your key values are? We use a number of different tools to help students get in touch with their values. We point them to complete a quick checklist, do a values card sort or take an assessment, MyPlan, that addresses values as well as skills, personality type and interests.

One values activity I used with our career decision making class in the past was the “My House” values exercise which I learned about from an academic support program run by our on campus Student Success Center in the past. It’s an activity to get a bit creative as you or your students consider values, so take out a blank piece of paper or use a blank computer screen and get started:


“Getting their house in order” will be a helpful exercise for students deciding on a major or preparing for interviews, graduate school or full-time jobs. As we coach students or employees making career moves, we can bring values into the conversation and their decision making process. A final thought comes from a quote by William Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true.” May your North Star be your guide as you pursue the next steps in your career journey.


Claire Childress, Senior Assistant Director, Career Services AuxiliaryClaire Childress, Virginia Tech Career Services Senior Assistant Director for Job Search and Graduate School Preparation, advises students and leads a team of advisors and a portfolio of services and programs. Prior to over 19 years at Virginia Tech, she worked in distance education and as an adjunct faculty member at New River Community College, as a healthcare marketer and as a banker. A former President of the Virginia Association of Colleges and Employers, Claire currently serves as SoACE Director of Professional Development. She writes regularly for her career advising blog, CareerChassé. Connect with Claire: LinkedIn

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